Future Electronics — Effective Design Methods for Future-Proofing New Smart Lighting Equipment

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By: Adil Sidiqi, Field Applications Engineer, Future Lighting Solutions (a division of Future Electronics)

Companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are hungrily eyeing the opportunity to serve customers who might, one day, have almost every electrically-powered object that they own connected to the internet. Through products and services such as Google’s Nest and Amazon’s Echo with Alexa voice recognition, ecosystems are being developed which enable consumers to control and interact online with a variety of smart, networked devices such as thermostats, door locks, fans and heaters.

These previously simple, stand-alone, single-function products are being transformed, turning into smart nodes in the Internet of Things (IoT). And exactly the same change is affecting luminaires, light switches and dimming controls.

The question for lighting equipment manufacturers is, who is going to profit from the change? The likes of Amazon or Apple have a huge amount to gain if they can establish a dominant platform for networked devices: their vision is for lighting equipment to carry marks such as the ‘Works with Amazon Alexa’ or ‘Works with Apple Home-Kit’ logo (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: The Amazon Echo smart home device. (Image credit: Rick Turoczy under Creative Commons licence.)

But by yielding control of the way that IoT implementation is performed to third parties outside the lighting industry, lighting OEMs could be losing the opportunity to determine how customers are served, and to earn revenue from the additional service streams enabled by the move to smart lighting.

It is clear that this battle will be won or lost within the next few years. Lighting products will become smart and networked. Lighting OEMs therefore need to take the plunge into the IoT – and now.

This is easy to say, of course, and less easy to do. One of the biggest challenges is to work out the best way to connect the new generation of smart lights, as well as existing lighting infrastructure, to the internet. Lighting manufacturers are understandably discouraged by the multitude of communications and control protocols and standards available for use in lighting and building automation systems.

What if an OEM were to invest huge amounts of time and resources in developing a new line of smart, networked luminaires, only to find that the control protocol they use falls out of favour, to be supplanted by a different or new standard? Would it not be better to wait until the picture has become clearer and the lighting industry’s technology choices have become settled?

This article argues that it is possible for lighting OEMs to implement new smart lighting designs today, without incurring the risk of obsolescence or ‘backing the wrong horse’. And by making the move into smart lighting immediately, rather than waiting, OEMs give themselves the best opportunity to add huge value to the installed base of lighting infrastructure, and thus to exploit new revenue opportunities before third parties have absorbed lighting into their proprietary IoT platforms.

Control Protocols: Too Much Choice?

Lighting manufacturers have a vast range of technologies from which to choose when deciding how to implement a control network for luminaires. The lighting industry itself supports DALI, 0-10V and PWM lighting control protocols, as well as the DMX512 communications protocol. The functionality provided by DALI, 0-10V and PWM is limited to basic lighting actions such as on/off switching, dimming and fault monitoring.

More widely in building and home automation, many other technologies could potentially be used to connect smart lights, including:

  • Wi-Fi
  • Li-Fi
  • KNX
  • LoRaWAN
  • SIGFOX
  • NB-IoT
  • Power Line Communication (PLC)
  • Ethernet
  • Bluetooth. Bluetooth is familiar to mobile phone users as a short-range point-to-point technology for so called ‘personal area networking’, but the standard has recently been extended for provide also for mesh networking, providing for greater range in multi-node applications such as lighting installations.
  • WiMAX
  • ZigBee
  • BACnet
  • EnOcean
  • LonWorks

Of course, smart lighting is not simply a matter of connecting a closed group of luminaires to each other – it means providing a link from lighting infrastructure to the internet. The benefits provided by IoT-enabled lighting systems will include:

  • Web service – the ability to control, monitor and configure devices remotely from any web browser anywhere in the world
  • Enriched functionality – additional devices, such as air-quality sensors, proximity sensors, or electric vehicle chargers, which benefit from integration into the lighting industry’s existing infrastructure
  • Integration with IoT services such as home monitoring apps, for instance enabling a person to turn on lights remotely via a smartphone app for security reasons when away from home

So lighting OEMs will therefore be looking to implement a technology which gives individual luminaires a link to a network server connected to the internet. A typical architecture for such a network, using LoRaWAN technology, is shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: A typical IoT network architecture, using LoRa low power radio transceivers, suitable for streetlights and other elements of public infrastructure such as charging stations and traffic lights. (Image credit: Flashnet)

LoRaWAN is a standard low power, long-range radio network protocol which is ideal for connecting streetlights to the internet. As Figure 2 shows, the component elements of the network are:

  • A lamp controller – a radio transceiver with certain control and sensing capabilities mounted on each pole (see Figure 3)
  • Lighting panel control units – each of these units can control multiple streetlights within a given area
  • A LoRaWAN gateway – a ‘concentrator’ device which acts as an internet access point for up to 20,000 nodes. The single-span range of a LoRa link is up to 15km in open space. This means that just a single LoRaWAN gateway is in some cases sufficient to provide an internet gateway for all the streetlights in a medium sized city.
  • Web-based application software for monitoring, analyzing and operating the lamp controllers

This same architecture will be found in other lighting use cases. In an office building, for instance, the EnOcean radio technology suitable for indoor use may be used to connect nodes such as light switches and presence sensors to an internet gateway. In any consideration of networking technologies for lighting, it is worth considering whether to limit the choice to open or standard technologies, or whether also to consider proprietary technologies supported by a single company.

The advantage of standard technologies is that their development is governed by multiple companies which each have a stake in the success of the market as a whole: the LoRaWAN standard, for instance, is governed by the LoRa Alliance, a global consortium of telecoms companies, equipment manufacturers, system integrators, sensor manufacturers, start-ups and semiconductor manufacturers. A proprietary technology, by contrast, is under the sole control of a single company, and is therefore at greater risk of being developed or modified in ways that do not reflect the broad interests of the market at large.

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Figure 3: The Flashnet wireless lamp controller module supports the addition of light, motion, impact, vibration, temperature, humidity or noise sensors. (Image credit: Flashnet)

A Modular, Building Block Approach

Many lighting equipment manufacturers which have experience only in designing and manufacturing luminaires – and no experience with radio, networking or internet apps – will at this point be considering two big questions about the migration to smart lighting:

  • How do I know which is the right communications technology to choose? What if I choose the wrong one?
  • What is the best way to build the smart part of a smart lighting system, given that I have no prior experience with RF or networking?

In fact, the same response answers both questions. The elements shown in Figure 2 are all available today as ready-made modules: the lamp controllers and lighting panel control units are manufactured by Flashnet, and compatible off-the-shelf LoRaWAN gateways are available to buy from manufacturers including MultiTech Systems, Kerlink and Cisco.

The extent to which a lighting equipment manufacturer integrates these modules itself is optional. In the case of the street lighting network shown in Figure 2, the entire system is available as an off-the-shelf turnkey product called InteliLIGHT® from Flashnet, a manufacturer for which Future Lighting Solutions is a franchised distributor. Flashnet supplies the lamp controllers and lighting panel controls; each includes a LoRa radio to connect to a LoRaWAN gateway. The lamp controllers are available in two versions for retrofitting, one with 0-10V and DALI interfaces, and one with a NEMA socket. There is also an embedded version for new designs. Flashnet supplies the control software which runs in an internet browser.

The controllers and control panels can also connect to public LoRaWAN gateways – public networks are provided in many countries as a service by mobile telephone network operators and others. An advantage of the LoRaWAN model is that it enables connection via either a public or private network. With a public network, new nodes may be added in much the same way as a consumer registers a mobile phone and becomes a subscriber to a cellular telephone network. The public network is maintained by a network operator, and the user pays a regular subscription fee.

With a private LoRaWAN network, the user sets up a dedicated network for their own use, bears all the costs of installing and maintaining it, but pays no subscription fees.

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Figure 4: Magnum Energy Solutions network configuration for indoor smart lighting

Future Lighting Solutions can guide lighting OEMs through the process of specifying and commissioning the entire Flashnet system, including the hardware and software elements and network service provision. Such a turnkey solution is the easiest and quickest way to implement a new smart lighting design.

In fact, this modular, standards-based approach also supports the use of other technologies and other suppliers’ products. The Flashnet emphasize inteliLIGHT system is interoperable with many communication technologies and IoT platforms including NB-IoT, LTE Cat M1 and IEEE 802.15.4, while ensuring compatibility with various lamp manufacturers and smart city devices.

Likewise, Magnum Energy Solutions offers a plug-and-play system optimized for indoor applications, but which is also suitable for some outdoor uses (see Figure 4). It uses energy harvesting in switches and sensors, and communicates using the EnOcean point-to-point/pointto-multipoint radio technology. Since EnOcean is another standard protocol, the Magnum devices are interoperable with EnOcean-compatible products from other suppliers, enabling internet connectivity via off-the-shelf modular units such as the ‘eBox’ gateway. Magnum products can also communicate with LED drivers that use a lighting communication interface such as 0-10V or DALI, including new sensor-ready drivers introduced by Philips and Osram.

For any of the networking technologies listed above, from general-purpose standards such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to industry-specific standards such as BACnet, the market provides stand-alone modules that can readily be bolted on to existing or new lighting designs. Figure 5 shows an example – a project to turn legacy street lighting in a town in Moldova into a smart lighting network, by attaching Flashnet LoRaWAN lamp controllers to existing lamps, and connecting them to a LoRaWAN gateway operated by the mobile telephone company Orange.

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Figure 5: A legacy street light in Hîncesti, Moldova with a new Flashnet LoRaWAN lamp controller. (Image credit: Flashnet)

A modular implementation allows lighting OEMs to maintain the flexibility to replace the networking technology used in their design: by developing a platform design that uses modules and off-the-shelf gateways, OEMs can fulfil the requirements of different project specifications from different customers, without being tied to a single communications technology for smart lighting.

Support from a broadly based supplier such as Future Lighting Solutions can also help the OEM throughout the development process. This includes the provision of advice and hardware demonstration systems to enable evaluation of various technologies at the earliest stages of defining the system requirements, all the way through to help with integrating the modular hardware components, software, and network services into a complete platform that is ready for deployment. All these elements are available to order today, and the specialist advice required to integrate them is ready.

It is in fact perfectly feasible for any small or medium-sized manufacturer of lighting equipment to implement a new smart lighting platform design today, and to maintain the ability to respond quickly as the technology of the IoT evolves.